When I was a young child I thought the most magical place on earth was Lima, Ohio. I know that sounds strange (particularly if you live here) but it was true. At least a couple of times a year we'd make the great trek from Charleston WV to Lima. We'd stay at my grandparents' house. My great-grandfather - Po Po - would fly in from Ogden. My Uncle Fred would (when he could) fly back from wherever the Air Force stationed him. All of the rest of our family still lived in town. As far as I was concerned our stay was one big, long party.
We'd play cards and go bowling. My Po Po would always let me sit on his lap and he'd tell me jokes. I can still smell his cigar. There always seemed to be cartoons on (as my grandparents had cable TV.... something we didn't have at home) and a bevy of 16 ounce Dr. Pepper bottles (the returnable ones) in the fridge. My Uncle Jack would take me to a movie and the arcade. Grandpa and I would wake up early and get donuts and elephant ears for the family. I can still see him sitting in the kitchen, coffee made, reading the paper, ready to make my grandmother breakfast. My great Uncle John owned a carryout where he'd let me fill a small paper bag with candy.
It was awesome.
After we moved here 1980 Lima became less awesome, but it was still a great place to grow up. Living in the same town as your grandparents was a lot better than only getting to see them a couple of times a year. I mowed Grandma Bucher's lawn and painted her picket fence once a summer. I was afraid of heights but I willingly climbed up into the cherry tree in her backyard to pick cherries that eventually went into the world's best pies. I fished at the reservoir and hit golf balls at Springbrook with my Grandpa Diehl. Grandma Diehl would invite us over for dinner where we'd camp out in the living room watching the Reds or Buckeyes. I never had babysitters because if given the choice, I always went over to my grandparent's house. It was always the fun place to be.
Over the years, one by one, we lost them. Po Po passed away in the summer of 1976. Grandma Bucher - a faithful woman who longed to go to Heaven - passed away peacefully the summer before I left for college (her husband died before I was born). My grandfather died in the middle of my Sophomore year of college. He was a victim of a strange cancer that struck his trachea and lungs. After a lifetime of good health he died way too soon.
My grandmother, however, continued to soldier on. When Aimee and I moved back to Lima in 1992 she was still living in the house on McDonel Street. Friday nights we had a standing invitation for dinner. Usually she'd make mac and cheese or cube steak stuff. We'd watch all of our favorite television shows because she tape them for us during the week. This was our regular routine until we moved in 1997. Aimee and I remember those visits fondly. Good company, conversation, and a lot of laughter was had on those Friday nights.
After we moved in 1997, The Great One decided to sell the house and move into a small one-bedroom apartment in the Lima Towers. When we came home we'd visit, bringing with us Kewpees so we could hear the latest on with the extended family, her ongoing UFO adventures (my grandmother, who believed she saw a UFO over Lake Erie as a child growing up in Cleveland, transcribed all of the interviews John Timmerman did on behalf of the local UFO society), and the latest scuttlebutt amongst the residents living in the Lima Towers.
Before the internet, my grandmother would cut out articles she thought we would find interesting, and mail them to us. I started receiving my articles (usually on religion, Haiti, or some issue regarding education) when we moved to Toledo in 1997. At some point her kids gave her a subscription to MSN-TV, an internet service for people who didn't have a computer, so the envelopes of articles were slowly replaced by forwarded links via email. Even as her world shrank to the size of her little "nest" she's always stayed current and informed. I never left Grandma without a discussion on politics or current events. She's a smart cookie.
After we moved back in 2004 usually Sunday night I'd go up and visit. After an afternoon spent napping I'd be up late, and my grandmother, always the night owl, was up for some company. We'd watch shows she taped because I didn't have time to watch them during the week and after they were over, we'd watch a local version of American Idol that came on after the local news. The production value was so bad It made us laugh. I laugh now thinking about it.
When we first moved back we watched "The West Wing", which was comforting in a way she never knew. My boss and mentor in Indiana, who had passed away unexpectedly in January 2004 right before we moved home, had always made a spot on his couch on West Wing night. Grandma, just by being present during that show helped me deal with his death.
By last fall we were watching Netflix shipped copies of Mad Men, a show I latched onto right away that The Great One found later. I was helping her get caught up. Over the years the shows changed, but the good conversation and company never did.
I'd like to say I was regular, every Sunday night, but that wouldn't be true. Particularly after we came back from our "Beeson Year" at Asbury Seminary, the stress and schedule of the new Senior Pastor role I filled meant more missed Sunday nights than I care to admit. But there were still plenty of evening of conversation and laughter. Coming back to Lima too enabled us to be a part of, and now host, our family gatherings. Holidays, picnics, special visits from family who'd come in throughout the year... my grandmother was always there, the matriarch contently sitting among us as her great-grandchildren ran about the house.
Last December, Grandma, who unbeknownst to any of us (including both her and her doctor) was struggling with wildly fluctuating blood pressure, fainted in her apartment. We knew her health was getting worse. In fact, not long before this happened, with her memory growing shorter and her trick knee getting worse, we visited a number of different assisted living facilities in town. Unfortunately in the fall she broke her hip and laid immobilized on the floor until my Uncle found her the next morning.
That fall ushered in a host of changes. A stay at the hospital led to a stay in the rehab at the nursing home. Pretty soon, the lease at the apartment was terminated and all of her stuff was put into storage. There was wrangling with Medicare, who at some point told her kids they'd be discharging her from the rehab unit any day now. A new season was coming, and that right soon.
Tomorrow, that new season begins. My grandmother, The Great One, is moving to Florida. She'll be living with her son and his wife in Palm City. Her stuff is already down there. All that remains is the plane ride she'll make with my Mom and Aunt Beth. It's all happening very quickly.
Today I stopped by to see her. We're taking the boys over later for one last "Chocolate Celebration" complete with a Marchocolate French Silk Pie from the Kewpee, but my chance to talk with her alone, just as I had so many of those Friday and Sunday nights, came and went this afternoon.
Her memory has been greatly affected by all of this. Once upon a time we'd have gone round and round on the health care bill or why on earth Lima Senior has had so many bomb threats but she can't keep those kinds of things straight mentally any more. So, instead, we talked about how nice Florida is this time of year. How Palm Trees are pretty and the pool deck at my Uncle's house is screened in so you don't have to worry about mosquitoes. How she would be getting a wheelchair so she could go with Fred and Kathy on walks around their neighborhood. She expressed her relief that she could go back to sleeping in late (the late sleeper didn't like the 9am wake up call at the nursing home) and for the chance to watch Fox News with Fred, who is politically a kindred spirit to her.
It was sweet moment.
I know that my technologically savvy Uncle will make sure we have regular video visits with Grandma. I'm certain that at some point I'll need to fly through Florida to Haiti soon, resulting in a welcomed visit with her in her new digs. And who knows.... the Bucher clan made it to Florida for Thanksgiving a couple of year ago. I'm sure we can do it again.
But I can't help feeling like this is the end of something, and it's a something that can never be fully retrieved. It certainly does make me feel sad. Much sadder, frankly, than I thought I'd feel because I do think this move will be good for her. She won't be alone and she won't have to shoulder the burden of taking care of things she just can't deal with any more. Besides, I know she misses my grandfather, and in some strange way my Uncle Fred kind of channels him in his appearance, voice, and manner. I can't help but think this will give The Great One great comfort. Particularly as the memory issues become more pronounced, in the sound of Fred's voice there will be echoes of the one person she most longs to hear. The one we've all missed these 22 years.
But more than sad, today makes me feel thankful. Thankful for the family who raised me. Thankful for the experiences we've enjoyed together. Thankful that the start in life they gave me has afforded me the opportunity to give my own children a similar experience of belonging and security. Thankful for The Great One, a great woman who through her strength has helped make us strong.
I'm thankful.... and someday I know we will all be together again.
I love you Great One. See you again soon.